Ancient history

Admiral Thierry d'Argenlieu

Last updated:2022-07-25

Admiral Thierry d'Argenlieu (in religion:Father Louis de la Trinité O.C.D.), born and died in Brest (August 7, 1889 - September 7, 1964), was a sailor, Carmelite religious priest and French resistance fighter.

Childhood, training and early career

From a bourgeois Picardy family established in Argenlieu, near Avrechy, in the Oise, Georges Thierry d'Argenlieu is the son of a Comptroller General of the Navy, Olivier Thierry d'Argenlieu.

After studying at Stanislas College in Paris and at Saint-Charles High School in Saint-Brieuc, he entered the Naval School in October 1906.

Ensign 1st class in 1911, he took part in the Moroccan campaign and received the Legion of Honor there.

First World War

Serving in the Mediterranean during the First World War, he applied for admission to the Third Order of Carmel during a stopover in Malta in 1915. In July 1917, he was promoted to lieutenant. He resigned after the war to join the Discalced Carmelites.

At the end of the war, d'Argenlieu began studying theology at Saint-Thomas College, the future Pontifical Saint-Thomas Aquinas University, Angelicum in Rome.

He took the habit of a Carmelite monk as Louis de la Trinité at the convent of Avon in 1920 and pronounced his first vows on September 15, 1921. After four years of study in the Catholic faculties of Lille, he was ordained a priest at Lille in 1925.

The Carmelite Province of Paris having been restored on February 11, 1932, he was appointed Provincial Superior of Paris in 1935.

World War II

In September 1939, he was called up in the Navy as a reserve officer and joined Cherbourg. Promoted to corvette captain on February 10, 1940, he was taken prisoner during the defense of the Cherbourg arsenal on June 19, but he escaped three days later and joined General de Gaulle in London on the 30th. According to de Gaulle , who writes it in his memoirs, d'Argenlieu would be at the origin of the proposal of the cross of Lorraine as a symbol of free France2. Other sources, including Thierry d'Argenlieu himself, indicate that on July 1, 1940, he took part in an interview with de Gaulle during which Vice-Admiral Muselier proposed the Cross of Lorraine as a symbol.

With Félix Éboué and three other people, he was among the very first decorated companions of the Order of the Liberation, on January 29, 1941. He became the first chancellor of this order, a position he held from 1941 to 1958. There practically imposes its choices and in particular only admits women to it drop by drop [ref. necessary]:out of more than a thousand members, six are women, four of whom are admitted posthumously.

Appointed Chief of Staff of the Free French Naval Forces in July 1940, he participated in the Dakar expedition, leading the delegation of parliamentarians sent to the Vichy authorities on September 23. In November, he led naval operations during the Gabon campaign.

In 1941, he became a member of the Empire Defense Council and then of the French National Committee. After a political mission to Canada in March 1941, he was appointed French High Commissioner for the Pacific with full civil and military powers in July. As such, he presided over the rallying of Wallis-and-Futuna in May 1942. During his stay in New Caledonia, his brittle authoritarianism earned him the animosity of the population, aggravated by his differences of opinion with Governor Henri Sautot, so that serious troubles shook Noumea where his authority was abused; the threat of a Japanese attack brings the protagonists to their senses.

Returning to London in 1943, he was appointed head of the Free French Naval Forces in Great Britain on July 19. He was appointed vice-admiral in December 1944.

The start of the Indochina War

On August 16, 1945, General de Gaulle appointed him High Commissioner of France and Commander-in-Chief for Indochina with the mission of restoring order and French sovereignty in the territories of the Indochinese Union; and, once Indochina has been liberated from Japanese and Chinese occupation and the Laotian and Cambodian provinces annexed by Siam have been recovered, to set up a federation of the peoples of the peninsula.

On September 6, 1945, Admiral d'Argenlieu left for Saigon and arrived there on October 31; he found General Leclerc there, who had been there since October 5. The two men did not get along and their conflict led to the departure of Leclerc in June 1946. They did not have the same position on the opportunity and the nature of the negotiations with Ho Chi Minh.

In northern Vietnam, a provisional government has been formed, chaired by Ho Chi Minh and which has started serious discussions with a French representative, Jean Sainteny. On March 6, 1946, an agreement (Hô-Sainteny agreements) was signed by which "France recognizes the Republic of Vietnam as a free State having its government, its Parliament, its army and its finances", an agreement which was qualified in private by d'Argenlieu from "Indochinese Munich". On March 18, Leclerc arrived in Hanoi with elements of his 2nd DB, triumphantly welcomed by the French but marching through the empty streets of the Annamese quarter. The comment states:"The crowd is sparse and the Indochinese are absent".

D'Argenlieu did not really accept the Hô-Sainteny agreements of March 6, 1946. His talks with Hô Chi Minh on March 24, 1946, aboard the Émile Bertin, in Ha-Long Bay, in the presence of Jean Sainteny and Pignon, do not bring the points of view closer and are the occasion of a violent incident with Leclerc. Admiral d'Argenlieu summons Raoul Salan and, trembling with anger, asks him to "bring Leclerc to his senses". In opposition to the agreements of March 6, 1946, he proclaimed a Republic of Cochinchina on June 1, 1946, when Ho Chi Minh left for France accompanied by Raoul Salan.

He was promoted to wing vice-admiral in March 1946 and admiral three months later.

Then came the bombing of Haiphong. A witness, the communist militant Henri Martin, then a young FFI combat sailor volunteering to fight the Japanese, commented:"This is where the war began, through d'Argenlieu's desire to move on to the reconquest, to seize of this port, essential in the economic activity, as shown by the maps of the time of colonialism. The March 6 agreement spoke well of independent finances, but, precisely, the essential resources of the Vietnamese government were in this port and the French troops claimed to continue to control its commercial activity”.

It was about a customs control that the first clash took place on November 19, 1946.

Shots were exchanged between two patrols, a French and a Vietnamese, then in the city to turn into an all-out battle. The shooting escalates and leaves 24 dead. Among them was Commander Carmoin who was advancing with a white flag towards the Vietnamese on the junk.

The incident of the Chinese junk is immediately exploited by the partisans of a reconquest of the former colony. Their leader is Admiral d'Argenlieu. A ceasefire came with a French ultimatum, demanding the evacuation of the city by Vietnamese troops.

Henri Martin says:“At 10 a.m. on November 23, 1946, the ships of the French Navy opened fire. The cruiser Émile Bertin from the mouth of the Rouge River but we, with Le Chevreuil, were on the river, in the city. We exhausted our stock of five hundred shells, and resupplied, we fired another five hundred. Admiral Battet estimated the number of victims in town at six thousand, but it is possible that there were more when it is known that the bombardment focused mainly on the Annamese quarter, with the houses packed [...] .

The military objective has been temporarily achieved, but attempts to build new structures come up against the political will of the Ho Chi Minh government.

On December 19, 1946, the Viet Minh attacked Hanoi by surprise and this was the start of a war that was to last eight years.

General Leclerc, who returned on mission on December 28, became aware of the gravity of the situation. He writes in his report that if one does not want to experience a situation like that of the Spanish War of Independence under Napoleon I or the Mexican Expedition under Napoleon III, the problem must be solved politically and not militarily. /P>

Admiral d'Argenlieu is maintained in his post under the governments of Félix Gouin, Georges Bidault and Léon Blum. But his action was controversial and the government of Paul Ramadier replaced him on March 5, 1947 with Émile Bollaert, also a Compagnon de la Liberation. It was he who celebrated the marriage of General de Gaulle's son, Philippe de Gaulle, to Henriette de Montalembert, in 1947.

Last years

Health problems forced him to restrict his activities from 1955, and he resigned from his position as Chancellor of the Order of the Liberation in 1958.

Withdrawn definitively to the Carmel, he died in Brest on September 7, 1964. His funeral took place in the Saint-Lucien church in Avrechy (Oise), where he was buried in the south transept.

It is mentioned in the 100th of the 480 memories cited by Georges Perec, in his text I remember.

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